HU2506 | Summer 2008 | Science & The Public Sphere: The Example of Biochar | Terra Preta Nova

Biochar @ MTU

“The regenerative qualities identified in prehistoric, anthropogenic Amazonian dark earths suggest that notoriously infertile tropical soils can be greatly improved. Soil enhancement practices by ancient Amerindians allowed them to intensively cultivate the land, without needing to continually clear new fields from forest. As increasing populations place ever greater pressure on tropical forests, this legacy of rich, ‘living’ soils warrants further study in the search for high-yield, land intensive, yet sustainable forms of management.” — From Amazonian Dark Earths: Explorations in Space and Time.

These project posts and updates from the summer 2008 section of HU2506 — Humanities, Technology & Society—are authored by participants in our Biochar @ MTU Project. The course and the project explore the concept of sustainability in its economic, social, cultural, and environmental forms before turning our attention to one scientific process in particular: creating biochar, a process that results in a carbon negative nutrient-rich soil amendment for community gardeners and farmers.

Biochar has a 5,000-year history as terra preta, or Indian black earths (terra preta de indio) in Amazonian South America and thus involves us right away in history, culture, geography, biology, and soil science. We explore those contexts while trying to create biochar and assess the longer-term feasibility of a community Keweenaw Biochar Project.

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